Dinner was over. My wife and I were taking final sips of – me/coffee, she/tea – and the telephone interrupted our random conversation. “Caller unknown” the phone announced between rings. Our eyes met as I stood to answer. “What is it this time?
“You don’t know me, but do you remember a boy that came out to the airport every Saturday and spent the day there?” So began a most unusual and interesting telephone conversation. A wrinkle turned into a smile as my mind swung back to my days at United Airlines and the old passenger terminal building – to a time when there was no security checkpoint and people were free to move about as they pleased.
This was a time when grown-ups walked the concourses for their daily exercise, a time when couples made the airport terminal a dinner destination at the Horizon’s Restaurant. It was a time when boys of various ages peddled their bikes or got a ride to the airport where they spent hours watching airplanes.
My caller, now from far away Dallas, was one of those boys so many years ago. In the deeper voice of a now senior citizen he relayed many of the wonderful Saturday experiences. “I have the name and an autograph of every person who worked for United Airlines,” he claimed. A childlike excitement stole its way into his voice. “So,” I queried, “How did you get started coming into the airport?”
“I was just three years old,” he replied. “My father was with me and someone took a picture. There was an American Airlines Convair in the background. (long pause) I’ve always loved he airport.”
I had not much to say, but that seemed perfectly all right. The caller had little time to take a breath. Finally, I was able to take advantage of a momentary silence and asked, “So, how did you connect to me?”
“Oh, I was on the phone, talking to Joe ___ and he told me that he had recently met you for lunch. Joe gave me your telephone number.” He went on. “I sometimes talk to Tom ___ and, once in a while to Gary ___. I like to stay in touch.”
As we talked my mind slipped back to those days long ago in the previous terminal. Built in 1953, it was the first exclusively airline passenger terminal. Until then the airlines, local aviators and visiting general aviation aircraft were all served at the site of the airport’s origin, Scottsville Road. The new terminal was a major change and Rochester’s public liked what they saw. Families came to meet arriving loved ones, watched from the boarding area doorway and, on a nice day, ran out to hug and greet the arriving passenger. Soon, though, the fresh, modern airport became too small and, within ten years, it was doubled in size. Just three airlines carried passengers to Rochester in those days – American, Mohawk and Capitol Airlines.
Bob’s call was indeed a surprise. It was also a reminder of gentler days when the general public played a major role in the day-too-day activities of the terminal building. Today, though we have a beautiful, well-designed terminal fitted with the best interest of those actually traveling in mind, there is little incentive for meeters and greeters to enter. The memories is sweet. Today’s terminal is a different story.